Women Need More Mental Health Treatment After Abortion,
New Study Finds
Springfield, IL -- Six months after her abortion, Jane had a mental
breakdown. When she later delivered a healthy son, unresolved grief
over her abortion contributed to severe post-partum psychosis. "I remember
wanting to throw him out the window of the hospital room," she later told
A study published in the most recent issue the American Journal of
Orthopsychiatry reveals that both the early and delayed psychiatric
episodes experienced by Jane are significant risks associated with abortion.
By examining Medi-Cal records for 173,000 low-income California women,
the research team compared the rate of psychiatric outpatient treatments
for women who had abortions versus those who carried to term. To
control for differences in prior psychological health, they excluded all
women who had any psychiatric care for a year prior to their pregnancy
Women were 63 percent more likely to receive mental care within 90 days
of an abortion compared to delivery. In addition, significantly higher
rates of subsequent mental health treatment persisted over the entire four
years of data examined. Abortion was most strongly associated with
subsequent treatments for neurotic depression, bipolar disorder, adjustment
reactions, and schizophrenic disorders.
Dr. Priscilla Coleman, the study's lead author, said that the study
design was an improvement over previous studies because it relied on medical
records rather than on surveys of women contacted at an abortion clinic.
"Most studies of mental health status after an abortion
rely on small groups of women—usually less than 300—and face high drop
out rates of 50 percent or more," said Coleman, a professor at Bowling
Green State University in Ohio. "By looking at medical claims for
a large group of women, we were able to capture a more accurate picture
of the differences between abortion and childbirth."
Another of the study's authors, Dr. David Reardon, said, "Our results
are likely to underestimate the true difference in psychological treatments
because the information on obstetric histories was incomplete. Since
many of the women classified as ‘childbirth only' actually had prior abortions
which we did not know about, this would most likely dilute our findings."
Last January, another study by Reardon, the director of the Springfield,
IL based Elliot Institute, was published in the prestigious British
Medical Journal. Examining a large national sample of women,
it revealed that women who abort are at higher risk of severe clinical
depression than women who carried unintended pregnancies to term.
Reardon is the co-author with Dr. Theresa Burke of a new book, Forbidden
Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion in which Jane's experience,
summarized above, is included as part of a comprehensive review of post-abortion
reactions. (See www.forbiddengrief.com). Forbidden Grief was recently
highlighted as the book of the week selection by radio talk show host Dr.
Reardon believes the results these recent studies underscore a key message
of Forbidden Grief: "We need
to expand outreach and referrals into post-abortion counseling programs.
There are many women who have great difficulty coping with the emotional
stress following an abortion. Without help, and especially the understanding
of loved ones, they will be more vulnerable to self-destructive behavior
and other psychological disorders."
Public interest in the health effects of abortion was last raised in
1989 Surgeon General Koop reviewed the research on abortion at the request
of President Reagan. Koop concluded that all the studies done up
to that point was so methodologically flawed that no firm conclusions could
be drawn about abortion's risks or benefits.
In a letter to the outgoing president, Koop recommended that a major
federally funded longitudinal study of abortions health risks was the only
way to secure definitive answers. His proposal for a major study
died in the Democratically controlled congress, however, when abortion
advocates argued that the appeal for such research was politically motivated
and a waste of tax payer dollars.
Reardon hopes the results of recent studies will rekindle the effort
to make the investigation of abortion's health effects a priority of the
government's National Institutes of Health. "The government has ignored
this problem for decades," Reardon says, "largely at the behest of population
control groups which are more concerned about protecting abortion than
protecting women. I believe women deserve better. They deserve
to know the true relative risk associated with abortion. If the government
had acted on Koop's recommendation, we would have had definitive answers
Even without a definitive longitudinal study, the research published
since 1989 has consistently revealed that women who abort are at higher
risk of subsequent substance abuse, suicide, depression, and mental illnesses.
During the time that knowledge of abortion's risks has grown, Reardon says,
not a single study comparing abortion to delivery of an unintended child
has shown that abortion is associated with better mental or physical health.
These facts lead Reardon to insist that, "While abortion may still be defended
on political grounds, it can no longer be defended on medical grounds."
Citation to study: Coleman PK, Reardon DC, Rue VM, Cougle JR. "State-funded
abortions vs. deliveries: A comparison of outpatient mental health claims
over five years." American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2002, Vol.
72, No. 1, 141–152.